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The Literacy Network will receive $300,000 over the next three years to expand its programs and offer higher-level English language learning opportunities to help students transition to college.

Jeff Burkhart, executive director of the Literacy Network, announced the grant from the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation Thursday. Burkhart said it is the largest grant the network has received in its 44 years.

With the grant money, the Literacy Network will increase the number of English classes offered and bolster personal advising to help students reach academic goals.

The program will be in partnership with Madison Area Technical College to teach English language learners who are working toward certificates or degrees at the college. The funding will be geared toward more advanced language lessons for those students, which can be personalized by tutors to address students’ specific programs.

“It’s really about helping them make that transition,” Burkhart said.

MATC, also known as Madison College, will open a new South Side campus at the intersection of Badger Road and South Park Street next fall just a few blocks away from the Literacy Network’s site at 701 Dane St.

The grant does not cover the total cost of the program, Burkhart said, but the Literacy Network is applying for other grants and speaking with individual donors to raise the $186,870 still needed.

Students involved with the network’s current tutoring program while taking classes at MATC for a two-year period showed a significant boost in test scores and attendance rates, Burkhart said, and were more likely to enroll in another semester than those who did not receive tutoring.

An advisory component will also be built into the program to help students who may be overwhelmed by beginning classes at a larger institution such as MATC, said Autumn Jackson, director of English as a second language (ESL) classes at the Literacy Network. Students involved will have an adviser to guide them through the school year.

Steven Skolaski, president of the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation, said the Literacy Network deserved the hefty grant because of its long history of serving disenfranchised people.

“(The students) just need a little bit of extra help,” Skolaski said.

The Literacy Network serves about 1,000 people in Dane County each year, Burkhart said, Students in the language learning program emigrated from about 70 different countries. The classes at the network typically have wait lists with 100 names on them, but Burkhart said about 150 more could be served through the foundation’s grant.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.